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Reminders of Viet Nam – 7 

Rain

 By Patrick J Lisi/Southern Utah Vets Aid

Where I live in Southern Utah it doesn’t rain much.  But, when it does rain it comes down hard and mostly in torrents.  The ground here is hard as rock, everywhere.  That’s probably due to the fact that this part of the US is basically rock, or sand that has baked for millions of years and is now hard as rock, or volcanic soil that also has turned into solid chunks of once molten lava and looks like black rock.  It isn’t hard to believe, then, that when we have a few hours of rain where I live we also are prone to flooding. 

It rains here in Southern Utah much less than it does in Southern Wisconsin where we moved from.  The comparison in inches of rainfall isn’t even close.  In the Saint George, Utah area we get about 8 – 10 inches a year and back in Madison, WI it was double that, easy.  But, there is one factor that makes the rainstorms in St. George much different than those back in the Midwest and that is the air temperature when the clouds burst open and release their tanks of water. 

Before moving to Saint George, Utah we were used to getting rains that signaled the end of a heat wave.  In fact, you could tell it was ready to storm when the clouds would build and build and then the temps would plummet.  Sometimes, this condition will spawn a tornado or two.  But here in the desert it’s very hot in the summer, and when a rain storm approaches the temperature remains pretty much the same.  This causes humidity and steam that cooks on the surface of all that sandstone and lava.  Low-lying fog and sinking clouds embrace the foothills of Saint George in an eerie mist that clings to every hip and valley like fuzzy fingers.  It’s just like Viet Nam, and when it happens here my mind goes back to Quang Nam Province and An Hoa, the home of the 5th Marine Regiment for 7 years of the Vietnam War.   

Rain in Nam was relentless when it happened.  There seemed to be no end in sight once it started.  It could go on for days and nights.  It soaked you through your rain gear and beyond your jungle fatigues, into your boots and inside your socks.  Down the front and down the back the water trickled.  Everything in your backpack – wet! Completely and utterly drenched, and you could count on staying like that until it stopped raining.   

It interfered with your vision and you had no idea if the enemy was sneaking up on you.  It was worse at night, of course.  A long rainstorm was noisy and it was almost impossible to hear the footsteps of a human being coming towards your lines from the jungle.  If you were operating in the lowlands and rice paddies it made for nowhere to step that wasn’t either puddle or mud.  Sometimes, you had to set up for the night and lie down in the muck and mire, your wet poncho stuck on your head secured there by your steel helmet.  A poncho liner was welcome as warmth, but it offered nothing for dryness.   

The air smelled differently when it rained in Nam.  Every type of vegetation now sprung to life as it hit ones olfactory sensors; the same with huts in the villages, shit piles from the pigs and dogs and kids, the stench from shallow graves of dead civilians or Cong, and from the wasteland of open pit dumps outside the Americans’ combat bases like An Hoa, DaNang, and wherever.  The mud even had a raw stench to it, and every footstep opened up a new wave of vapor that slammed you in the face as you struggled to pull your boots out of the earth, one step at a time.   

When it rained for more than a few days we tended to call this a “monsoon”.  It could last a week or two.  There were no helicopters to bring supplies and no fighter planes to defend or ‘prep’ a position during a monsoon.  But, there was something sort of good about them:  The enemy tended to not work as hard then, either.  It was really hard to get around for all of us during those times, because the entire land was either under water or caked with thick, red/gray mud.  We slogged along on patrol and saw very little of the enemy during rainy periods in the lowlands.   

Up in the jungle it was a bit different, for the pooling of water didn’t occur like it did down below.  It could run-off up in the forest.  The streams there would flood and overflow, but it basically rolled and rumbled downhill and wasn’t a big problem for hikers like us, and the NVA.  Fog would set in, though, and that’s when it was dangerous.  Lots of Marines and soldiers died atop ‘socked in’ LZ’s in Vietnam during the war, simply because a medivac bird could not come and lift them out in time to get them to the field hospitals. 

“Misery loves company,” and we were definitely miserable when it rained.  I am reminded of that every time it rains in Saint George, Utah even though the wretchedness isn’t quite the same.  All I have to do here is go indoors.

 

 

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